Khomas claimed as Damara ancestral land

14 September 2018 | Agriculture

A discussion paper for the country's second national land conference, slated for October, argues the notion that Damara ancestry is confined to areas around Khorixas, Uis, Okombahe and Sesfontein is flawed and a creation of the South African colonial administration.

The paper compiled by Karl Mudani ||Aribeb says the Damara, along with the San, lived in most of present-day central Namibia, before the arrival of the Bantu, Nama and Europeans.

||Aribeb emphasised the paper is his own initiative, as an independent professional.

He claims the Damara now find themselves on the fringes of Namibia after being forced off their land in the Khomas Region by the Nama and Ovaherero. In fact, according to him, this is exactly where the marginalisation of the Damara began.

||Aribeb said because of their suppression by the Nama and Ovaherero, the Damara were unable to stake out, lay claim or defend any piece of the land as exclusively theirs. In the same vein, he pointed out that colonial land dispossession had two game-changing consequences, which firstly resulted in the loss of Damara, Nama and Ovaherero ancestral land. Secondly, the expropriation of all land by the German administration brought about the notion of private land ownership, which completely replaced the indigenous communal land use system.

“This effectively marked the demise of pre-colonial flexible resources-use systems characterised by seasonal movement and migrations. Lastly, the affected indigenous communities become de facto trespassers on their own land virtually overnight,” he said.

||Aribeb said despite the academic and scientific debates about the origin of the Damara, Namibia is the only home they have always known.

“It is a fact of Namibian history that the Damara lived through a period of extreme torture at the hands of the Nama and Ovaherero, virtually until the advent of the German colonial administration. The German administration progressively put an effective end to intertribal wars and atrocities, done through peace treaties, protection treaties and harsh military action,” he said.

A refuge in Okombahe

According to ||Aribeb, the emergence of the Okombahe Native Reserve is of major historical significance for the Damara and represented the first territory they freely perceive as exclusively theirs.

He quotes researches who wrote that Rhenish missionaries addressed the landlessness of the Damara by assembling them around mission stations, including at Rehoboth, Otjimbingwe, Omaruru, Okombahe, Tsumamas and Gaub.

“It is through these missionary mediations that the Ovaherero chiefs of the Tjiseseta dynasty consented to the granting of a free area in the Okombahe reserve for the exclusive use of the Damara people,” he said.

||Aribeb said this allowed the Damara an opportunity to embark on a fairly prosperous and self-reliant existence.

Khorixas stereotype

He added that after the Odendaal Plan came into operation, during the South African colonial administration, portions of the current Kunene Region and virtually all communal land in the current Erongo Region, with the exemption of Omatjete and Otjimbingwe reserves, became Damaraland.

According to ||Aribeb this restored some measure of dignity, especially to generational farmworkers who saw an opportunity for economic and social freedom.

He, however, added there are many Damara outside this homeland, with no form of affinity to it and Khorixas in particular.

/Khomanin move from Khomas

||Aribeb added that in 1914 the German colonial administration allocated farms Furstenwalde and Augeigas to the Damara people of the /Khomanin tribe.

However, after de-proclamation in 1956, 254 families including about 1 500 people with their 1 780 large and 15 820 small stock were forcibly moved to the extremely arid and drought-prone Sori-Soris in Kunene.

He added the /Khomanin community were plagued by losses after their livestock perished in the persistent Kunene drought and therefore returned to camp in corridors in the Khomas Region.

Some of these people have been resettled, while a splinter community still demand access to their ancestral land.

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